Football is back: Greyhounds, Cardinals hit the practice field to begin 2017 season

While much of the Rio Grande Valley remained glued to their soft pillows and tucked under their cozy, warm blankets early Monday morning, the San Benito and Harlingen football teams were already hard at work in preparation for the upcoming season.

The Greyhounds trotted out onto the field at Bobby Morrow Stadium at 6 a.m. with the brightly lit stadium lights casting long shadows and piercing the still very dark sky.

“Let’s get it going, gentlemen,” screamed one coach at the top of his lungs. “Wake up! We’re at work now so wake up!”

Meanwhile, at the same time at Harlingen High School, the Cardinals coaching staff began issuing equipment and shortly thereafter the Red Birds hit the field at Cardinal Stadium as a relatively cool summer breeze sent the smell of fresh-cut grass wafting upward.

“It’s go time, boys,” shouted one of the Cardinals’ assistant coaches. “This is what we live for. Football’s back!”

Last season, the Hounds and Cards battled through an intense District 32-6A schedule and faced off in the final game of the regular season with the league title hanging in the balance. When the dust finally cleared, it was the Cardinals that walked away with the conference championship and Battle of the Arroyo bragging rights.

But that was then. The “now” is officially underway.

CARDINALS: Harlingen was 9-3 overall and 7-0 in District 32-6A last season, falling to Laredo United 30-26 in the area round. Coach Manny Gomez, who is in his 11th season as the Cards’ head man, is without several key offensive components this season including running back Leo Tienda and quarterback Jesse Castro. However, the Red Birds always reload and this year should be no exception. Gomez expects Daniel Ramirez, Damon Cantu and a couple of “eager sophomores” to compete for the QB spot this season. Meanwhile, running back Abel Castaneda returns for his senior season after rushing for nearly 330 yards and six touchdowns last year as Tienda’s backup. Also back for his senior campaign is wide receiver Riley Sauceda, who hauled in 34 receptions for 351 yards a year ago.

HOUNDS: San Benito finished 10-2 overall and 6-1 in District 32-6A play last year, losing to Laredo United South in the second round of the playoffs. Coach Dan Gomez, who is in his fourth year as head coach, gets back a ton of talent including senior quarterback Erick Retta, who passed for nearly 2,500 yards and 34 touchdowns last season. Senior running back Tyrone Harper is also back on offense along with senior wide receiver Isaiah Trevino, who hauled in 13 TDs in 2016. Meanwhile, senior Ryan Reza (60 tackles, 13 sacks in 2016) and Avelino Garcia (64 tackles, 20 tackles for loss) anchor the defensive line while Payne Guajardo and Ryan Castillo will patrol the secondary and backfield.

CARDINALS AT A GLANCE

Coach: Manny Gomez (11th season)

2016 record: 7-0 district, 9-3 overall; area finalist

Starters returning O/D: 6/3

Players to watch: RB Abel Castaneda, QB Daniel Ramirez, WR Riley Sauceda, OT Grant Drabek

Scrimmage schedule:

Aug. 18 at Edinburg North, TBA

Aug. 25 vs. Sharyland, 7 p.m.

Non-district schedule:

Sept. 1 at Mission Veterans, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 7 at Laredo United South, 7 p.m.

Sept. 15 vs. San Antonio Reagan, 7:30 p.m.

GREYHOUNDS AT A GLANCE

Coach: Dan Gomez (4th season)

2016 record: 6-1 district, 10-2 overall; area finalist

Starters returning O/D: 5/5

Players to watch: QB Erick Retta, WR Isaiah Trevino, RB Tyrone Harper, DE Ryan Reza

Scrimmage schedule:

Aug. 18 vs. Corpus Christi Carroll, TBA

Aug. 25 at McAllen High, TBA

Non-district schedule:

Sept. 1 vs. Laredo United, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 8 at San Antonio East Central, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 15 at McAllen Memorial, 7:30 p.m.